Luke Schneider, the CEO of Silvercar, a company that is redefining the airport car rental experience for connected, technology-enabled travelers.
Innovate your business model. By limiting ourselves to one (awesome) vehicle type, and integrating our own mobile technology, we are able to deliver the industry’s most streamlined, seamless customer experience. Whether a customer is pressed for time, tired of never knowing what will be parked in the slot when they show up, or just wants a car that reflects their personality, we are able to deliver – every time. This design has also allowed Silvercar to expand at a blistering pace, as it minimizes complexity in our operations. We’ve grown to four locations in 5 months, and we’re on track to have seven by the end of the year, 15 by the end of 2014.
We got traction by starting with thought leaders – people with a history of innovation, visible public presence, and vast networks of like-minded individuals. Silvercar is as much a technology company as a car rental company. Sharing Silvercar with these innovators proved a vital first step, not only for attracting those critical early customers, but through their influence we were able to quickly increase the ranks of repeat users. On the heels of this quick start, we then did what anyone would do: we told everyone about it who would listen! Our story is unique and our solution, in our opinion, is the answer to deeply entrenched problems airport in car rental. We used our own networks, media relations, social media and various other tools to tell that problem-solution story, and it worked.
Like with most start ups, the biggest obstacle is traffic – bringing customers in. But unlike traditional players in the industry, Silvercar customers are enabled through their mobile devices. An entire customer base of mobile-enabled car renters from reservation, to vehicle access, to the return process. Imagine what that means for marketing, customer acquisition costs and repeat business.
The saying goes, “if you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.” Well after one too many terrible experiences at the rental counter, our team who helped to make Silvercar what it is took that idea to heart. We took what we envisioned for the ideal rental car and we made it happen.
We’ve learned to pick our partners carefully, starting with funding. Our company is appealing to venture capitalists, as well as more conventional backers. We’ve found that by partnering with people that have the right focus and experience, as well as the understanding that this is not a typical technology venture we have plenty of access to capital.
At Silvercar, we have what I call a “bias to clever”. We don’t just like to make things easier, or better, we love simplicity in our solutions, too. Our gratification comes from looking at a thorny problem, and devising an elegant, powerful answer. Believe it or not that really drives us – how can we make the experience not just okay, but ideal. How can we be more efficient? How can we provide better service? Where can we innovate and grow? Those questions are always on our minds and they tend to be what pulls us out of a funk.
Silvercar has the good fortune to have all the elements that are necessary for success. We have a great idea, talented and dedicated people, new technologies at the right time, an industry ripe for innovation, and the determination to change the industry as we know it. So far, our assets are working for us and our growth indicates that we’re in this for the long haul.
Personally, I’ve always had a compulsion to understand how things work, from inspiration to design down to the mechanics. At my core I’m a product person – someone who is energized by the ability to make an experience better or more fulfilling through thoughtful, disciplined design. As a committed car guy and technology junkie, I saw the path clearly. The choice was all but made for me.
Silvercar’s team is also like this. Most of us are entrepreneurs, and we work to instill the entrepreneur spirit in our staff because it makes clear the responsibility for making Silvercar successful. It rests on everyone, not just the CEO.
Upon reflection, I can’t say that I’d change anything that we’ve done. But I would say that we’ve learned to be flexible, to adapt quickly. That’s imperative for a startup because it doesn’t matter how brilliant or how detailed your plan is; things can change. And being nimble enough to go with the flow is something we learned along the way.
I once befriended 4 beautiful homeless people in San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Park while I was rehearsing for a rather important presentation. It turns out that the 5 of us were actually all doing the same thing – walking around a public park talking out loud to ourselves – each for different reasons, of course. Later, when we had some trouble finding the staff to move our equipment into the convention center for the presentation, I was able to enlist the help of my new friends to join in the work. They were more than happy to help … and I suppose giving them each $20 didn’t hurt.